Don’t Get Burned by the Dumpster Fire.
It is easy to fall behind on sermon preparation when your week looks like a dumpster fire. There are a lot of situations that can derail a pastor’s study time. An unexpected death, sudden tragedy, or surprising conflict are some of the usual suspects. Saturday night can be stressful when you have no idea what you will preach the next morning.
In this article, we will discuss time-saving tips to help you get ahead in your preparation and work more efficiently. Plus, when you save time during preparation you will be more rested, less anxious, and have added time with those you love.
You don’t have to fall behind even when your week falls apart. Expect it. Plan for it. Some weeks are harder than others. We all need a plan to prepare for difficult weeks. Embrace the habit of doing some advanced preparation and your difficult week will be much easier to handle. Below are a few tips to help you work ahead.
1. Create a calendar.
Sundays come with amazing frequency. Create a preaching calendar to plan and prepare for your preaching. Note special events, holidays, and events. People sometimes face different challenges depending on the time of year. Plan and prepare for it. A calendar also gives you an opportunity to track what has been covered in your preaching.
Some preachers create calendars for the entire year. I like to plan for three distinct seasons: Spring, Summer, and Fall. Each of these seasons has a unique rhythm in the life of a church. You can save a lot of time by praying and planning in advance.
2. Take a day.
Schedule an entire day or two for planning and preparation a few times each year. This is a great time to work on your preaching calendar. I like to go to a retreat center or camp for 24-36 hours. I use this time to pray, read, and plan for the upcoming season. I often leave this time with a few clear sermon series ideas or the conviction to preach a specific book in the bible. It takes time to make time!
3. Designate study time early.
If you preach weekly, try to get your sermon preparation time started early. You will be more relaxed. Deep and meaningful preparation can be choked out by stress and pressure. I like to schedule chunks of time early in my week for preparation. It’s a good idea to spend time in three areas: Your next sermon, the sermon after, and any upcoming series, holiday, or special emphasis.
4. Use an off week.
Almost every preacher has a few weeks scattered throughout their year when they don’t preach. Use the weeks you don’t preach to work ahead. Pray. Plan. Outline a new sermon series. Draft an entire sermon for the following week (or a week when it is really needed). Don’t miss the opportunity to get ahead on an off week.
5. Always carry your tools.
Few preachers have the luxury of locking themselves in their study 40 hours a week. Carry the tools you need to do sermon preparation everywhere you go. I carry a briefcase with my laptop, notes, and Bible. I’ve done sermon preparation on my lunch break, an airplane, in a hospital, and while getting my car serviced. Redeem all the time you can.
Work smarter not harder. There is some truth to this statement when it comes to preaching. Below are a few tools and time-saving tips to work more efficiently.
6. Software helps.
Knowing how to use Bible study software can be a huge timesaver. With a few clicks, you can assemble a ton of information on a passage or topic. There are several options to choose from. Logos Bible Software is probably the current leader in this area. However, learning how to effectively use software takes time. The good news is that online training videos are common.
7. Use an outline from a pro.
Many resources make outlines available for use. I am not recommending that you preach the sermon of someone else or plagiarize. However, there are numerous resources and books that provide excellent preaching outlines and background information. You will save tons of time when you start with a clear outline and detailed background information.
Be sure to give credit when you use something from another preacher. This protects you from an accusation of plagiarism.
8. Preach in series.
One of the easiest ways to create additional time and margin for preparation is to preach a sermon series. A sermon series is a set of connected messages that are centered on a book of the Bible, idea, or theme. There are several advantages to preaching a series. First, you always know what is coming in advance. You will spend time preparing to preach instead of looking for a text to preach. Second, your study time will be more efficient. Since the sermons will be related, much of the background information will be the same.
- Preach texts based on a theme.
You can develop a rich and encouraging sermon series based on a Biblical theme. Biblical themes run throughout the Bible. Grace, promise, covenant, forgiveness, faith, justice, mercy, and suffering are just a few predominant themes found in the Bible.
- Preach texts based on a topic.
What does the Bible have to say about marriage and sexuality? A whole lot! What does your church need to know about money or possessions? The Bible covers that too! Covering the same topic for a few weeks allows you an opportunity to emphasize a truth and equip your people.
- Preach a unified section of Scripture.
Bigger sections of scripture can often make an awesome sermon series. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17) could both be turned into an excellent sermon series of varying lengths. Plus, resources that will help you dig deep into these texts abound. D.A. Carson’s book Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and his confrontation with the World, and L. Scott Kellum’s book Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through John 13:31-17:26 are great resources to guide you through a preaching series.
- Preach a book or chapter.
Preaching through a book of the Bible is a great way to develop a sermon series. Start with a smaller book like 1 John, Philippians, or Colossians. Or, if you are new to this approach consider preaching through a single chapter of Scripture. You can write a sermon for each unit (paragraph) found in the chapter. Most chapters will have 3-4 paragraphs that can make for an easy and short sermon series.
9. Become an organized packrat.
Every great sermon needs a few great illustrations or stories. The right story paired with the right text can be a gamechanger. Every preacher needs a system to collect and organize stories and illustrations. There are several ways to do this. Some preachers use a filing system based on a topic. You can organize your file with broad topics like love, grace, outreach, faith, family, children, or prayer.
There are a few books in print that contain sermon illustrations organized by topic. Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations is the best volume on this subject I’ve come across. Remember, a book of someone else’s stories will probably be less effective than developing the skill of creating your own.
Encouragement for the bi-vocational brother.
Serving as a pastor is difficult. The challenge can be greater for the pastor who has an additional job or career. Don’t be discouraged. I’ve known several bi-vocational pastors whose ministry and preaching far exceeded that of many other pastors. All of the tips above can be used by bi-vocational pastors. Here are a few more for those who preach and work elsewhere:
10. Devour Audio Books.
Audiobooks are awesome. Resources of all types are being made into audiobooks that you can access from your smartphone or pad. I use a subscription where I purchase a few new books a month. Audiobooks are a great way to easily redeem drive time or downtime.
11. Train like a Navy Seal.
Well, you may not be able to train like a Navy Seal, but you can get up like one. When you get up at
12. Use your breaks.
Breaking your study up into smaller breaks can be an effective way to prepare. The key is to carry what you need and know how to study in small chunks. Take a study break at the lunch table, while on the treadmill, or any other time that is undesignated.
13. Trust in God’s Grace.
Remember that God’s grace is sufficient for what he has called you to do. Do all that you can do. However, don’t be discouraged if you are not able to do all that you would like. God sees your faithfulness in the small things. Don’t give up. He blesses those who trust in him.